5 Growth Strategies for Training Solo


To gain muscle, you’ve got to consistently push past muscle failure, but without a training partner you could be out of luck. Here are 5 techniques that can actually take the place of — or work better than — a workout partner.

Solo Tactic #2: Partial Reps

Partial Reps

What is it: If you’re looking for the opportunity for some serious barbell work but find it difficult to push yourself without a spotter, this is your technique. The partial technique basically breaks a lift into smaller components within the range of motion (ROM), allowing you to handle a weight that’s much heavier than you could normally use if you were working in a full ROM. This is especially helpful for those who go it alone.

Every lift has a particular range of motion, but no matter the lift or exercise, that ROM can be broken down into pieces. By working in a shortened ROM, you allow the muscle fibers to adapt to the heavier weight at a given point. (As an example, think of the guy who does very shallow squats with very heavy weights — far heavier than he could ever do for a full range of motion. He’s engaging in exactly this type of training.) Now typically, when you think of partials, it’s the last few inches of the ROM that probably come to mind as you lock out the weight. But actually, any portion of a lift is considered a “partial” if it’s less than the full potential ROM. Because you don’t have a spotter to help you through the tough sets, it’s up to you to make each and every inch of a set the best it can be, and partials allow you to safely work heavy on your own.

The best place to do partials is on the Smith machine or, even better, the power rack where you can adjust the safety bars to limit the range of motion. With free weights it’s difficult to stop the motion at the intended point, but that’s easily solved when using a power rack and a barbell.

While you can build up your strength over a portion of the ROM with a heavier than normal weight, it’s important to know that you don’t want to always isolate your partial training to only one particular portion of the ROM, because your gains in strength will be limited to that particular ROM. (The guy who always does shallow squats still has skinny legs.) Therefore, over time, you’ll need to adjust the safety bars, working various parts of the ROM so that you gain strength throughout. If it’s the last few inches of a lift where you begin, that’s fine. Just make sure that from one set to the next or from one workout to the next, you change the safeties to another level, affording a different angle the same benefit of using more weight than normal.

How to use it: At whatever angle you choose to train using partials, we suggest starting with about 10–15% more weight than you can lift for your full-range 10RM. (That is, choose a weight that you can do for 10 and only 10 reps, then add 10–15% more weight.) Again, week to week, you can lower the safety bars to the next setting (usually a couple of inches) and expand the ROM. If you choose to lower the weight a couple of inches in the same workout, you’ll obviously have to reduce the weight somewhat, but you should still be lifting more than you could handle through a complete ROM at each level. Then, from week to week, the weight you begin each training session with will be more than the previous week, based on your new foundation of strength.

What’s a sample program look like: Here’s how your bench press approach using partials might look from week to week or even set to set.

 Exercise  Load  Set*  Reps  Safety Setting
 Bench Press  10RM + 10%  1  10  4 inches from top
 2  10  6 inches from top
 3  10  10 inches from top
 4  10  12-14 inches from top

* You can change the safety bar positions from set to set as shown here, or do all of your sets in the uppermost position, and then change the safeties on your next workout to the next lower position.

Best bodyparts: Chest, legs

Best used with: Power rack and Smith machine, some machines with range-restriction capabilities

Avoid using with: Free-weight dumbbells, barbells, cables

Tagged: , | Follow @MuscleMag

Also on MuscleMag

Current Issue
Preview the latest issue of MuscleMag

Preview the latest issue of MuscleMag

Preview the July 2014 issue of MuscleMag
MuscleMag On Twitter
Exclusive Video